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Tuesday's Axios Des Moines stories

Des Moines activists condemn Cownie's proposal for more city hall security

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie in 2019. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Activists are calling out Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie for suggesting more security at city hall.

Why it matters: Local groups say his proposal casts a damaging image on activists who speak out — sometimes very bluntly — about decisions made by city leaders they feel are oppressive.

Des Moines' North High School establishes $560,000 scholarship fund for students of color

Siblings Paul and Catherine Williams graduated from North High School in th 1930s. Photos courtesy of DMPS

A brother and sister who graduated from North High School in the 1930s left an estate of nearly $560,000 for a new scholarship for students of color, school officials announced last week.

Why it matters: Minority and low-income students in Iowa are less likely to earn a college degree. This will help close financial barriers for students at North.

Scoop: Des Moines eyes sale of its largest publicly-owned housing complex

Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

Royal View Manor, DSM’s largest publicly-owned housing complex, would be sold under a plan that will be unveiled in coming weeks, Municipal Housing Agency director Chris Johansen told Axios.

Why it matters: The change could save the city money, but also narrow affordable-housing options and leave people homeless, multiple housing advocates cautioned.

Des Moines Mayor Cownie pursuing gun ban for City Hall

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Mayor Frank Cownie is pursuing new rules for City Hall as DSM transitions back to in-person meetings, including a weapons ban and installing metal detectors.

  • The effort is partly in response to escalating tensions between the public and city officials, he told Axios.
  • Cownie may also ask the council to consider suspending or banning the most egregious decorum rule breakers from future meetings.

Why it matters: The city wants to improve security and public dialogue without violating constitutional protections to free speech and gun rights. Go deeper (1 min. read)

  • Between the lines: Guns must be allowed in city buildings unless armed security guards are present (they currently aren't) under an Iowa law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds last year.

Flashback: DSM council meetings became noticeably more contentious following the death of George Floyd last year in Minneapolis and calls for police reform reached our city.

  • One council meeting lasted 14 hours because dozens of speakers used 30-minute periods for public discussion on dozens of agenda items.
  • "Troll control" rules were adopted in August, limiting public speakers to 85 seconds on most agenda items, which was partly in response to people who hacked into Zoom meetings and made racist remarks.
  • An open public comment section of the meetings was limited to 30 minutes, sometimes leaving less than 60 seconds per speaker.

Speakers who reach time limits are cut off mid-sentence, driving frustration among some who believe the rules are unfair and intended to silence those who wish to express differing views.

  • A sign of contention: DSM resident Leah Plath began her comments at a public meeting two weeks ago with, "F*** you, Frank" after the mayor cut off earlier speakers for not being germane. (It’s at the 1:32:20 mark of this video).

Of note: Plath didn’t return Jason’s calls but is signed up to speak again at tonight’s council meeting, which is expected to be particularly divisive.

  • At least 45 people have requested to speak.
  • Some will question why a Des Moines police sergeant with a history of excessive force is helping to lead the department's de-escalation training.

What's next: Cownie is consulting with the city's legal team on the possible security measures, which ultimately need council approval. The council will discuss them in coming weeks.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.